Benitez hails return of Torres

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The Independent Football

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes the return of striker Fernando Torres is like signing a new player for the final 10 matches of the season.

The Spain international scored his 13th goal in 17 Barclays Premier League matches in the 2-1 win over Blackburn at Anfield yesterday.

It was his first strike of 2010, having been sidelined for five weeks with a knee operation, but Benitez is hopeful his star striker will provide the necessary impetus to secure fourth place in the table ahead of Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa.

"It was really important for us and really important for him as he will have more confidence," said Benitez of Torres' goal.

"It was clear he was not fully fit and his match fitness is not the best but he can make the difference and he scored an important goal.

"If he can improve his fitness he will be a very good addition for us and he can be a threat for all the defenders.

"He can create space for Steven Gerrard and the other players and, if you are under pressure, he can score goals on his own."

Having scored 10 in his first 11 league matches, a niggling groin problem followed by his knee injury restricted the 25-year-old to three goals since the end of October.

Benitez now hopes that if he can keep Torres fit for the remaining two-and-a-half months of the season it could have a significant bearing on their Champions League qualification ambitions.

"The main thing now is to manage him properly and keep him fit and he can make the difference," said the manager.

"We have Yossi Benayoun coming back, now Fernando and maybe next week Glen Johnson will be fit and available so it will be good news.

"We were a little bit better (against Blackburn) and if we have players with more quality in attack and more competition maybe that will make a difference in terms of goals."

Benitez's immediate concern is Spain's friendly with France on Wednesday, for which Torres has been called up.

The Liverpool boss has spoken to the Spanish coaching staff about his striker's current physical condition but just has to hope Torres returns as fit as when he left.

"I was talking with the Spanish staff and we know they will take care of him," he added.

With a World Cup looming this summer Torres is keen to feature for Spain and was "honoured" to be called up having made one start and a 15-minute substitute appearance the previous week against Manchester City.

"It's normal that he (Benitez) is thinking about his interests but he knows that all the players want to go to the national team," said the striker.

"For us it is an honour to be here, to play as much as possible and to return as fit as possible to our teams.

"Luckily I recovered in time. To be in the national squad is a prize for me.

"I have the good fortune that the coach called me up after playing just two games since I recovered."

Spain goalkeeper Jose Reina, Liverpool's best player this season, showed his worth to the side again with a number of saves to deny Rovers yesterday.

However, he knows the focus will always be at the other end of the pitch.

"It was great to see Fernando score because he is a key player for us," he said.

"We have 10 league games left now and it can make a big difference with him back in the team.

"He is an important player for us and hopefully he can keep scoring goals now and help us end the season with a winning run."

Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger left Anfield on crutches yesterday after injuring his knee and will have treatment at the club's training ground throughout this week.

"Daniel underwent a scan this morning which has shown severe bruising to the bone in his right knee," said a club spokesman.

"The knee is still very swollen and he will continue to receive treatment at Melwood this week."

Fellow defender Fabio Aurelio was forced off against Blackburn with a thigh injury which could keep him out of next Monday's Barclays Premier League trip to Wigan.

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